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Harlem’s 67 Orange Bar Cocktails in the Time of Corona

Harlem’s 67 Orange Bar Cocktails in the Time of Corona

On a recent Monday, New York City inspectors were out in full force in Harlem.

A Department of Buildings officer lurked around a recently constructed makeshift restaurant patio on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. He took photos, jotted down notes and was soon joined by a colleague. They conferred, pointing here, there and over there, too.

Karl Franz Williams watched all this from his perch on a stool at a high table on his own makeshift patio. It extends from the sidewalk in front of his cocktail bar, 67 Orange Street, into what would normally be a parking spot. The area is delineated by a hip-high barrier built of raw lumber that’s 18-inches-wide. There’s more than eight feet of space between the tables and the entrance to his establishment. It’s exactly what the law requires but Williams still kept an eye on the inspectors. He was visibly anxious for his neighbor.

In normal times, navigating the rules and regulations around operating a bar or a restaurant in the Big Apple requires a flamenco dancer’s agility, the reflexes of a NASCAR driver, the tenacity of a triathlete and the strategic instincts of a chess master. It doesn’t hurt if you also have a Madeleine Albright knack for diplomacy, too. But as the city haltingly advances through the many stages of reopening, with the novel coronavirus lurking in the shadows, those skills are just a starting point.

Williams originally spent $750 on planters to demarcate his outdoor dining space, in accordance with the city’s direction, only to be informed a few days later that the rules had changed. He was then required to build a more substantial barrier, which set him back an additional $3,000—no small sum for a business then operating on a fraction of its margins.

But the outdoor seating has proven very popular. We barely started chatting before someone from the neighborhood biking by stopped to catch up and then one of Williams’ regulars sat down to eat, nearly giddy at her first visit since before the coronavirus pandemic.

I first met with Williams at his bar on a Saturday in mid-May. 67 Orange is a study in exposed brick, raw wood surfaces, dark leather, pressed tin and wrought iron. It’s gorgeous. It was the first Saturday of Phase 2 of reopening and he was behind the stick making drinks for outdoor diners who filled a few of the dozen outdoor seats and for the to-go orders that were called in.

Especially popular were the punches, he explained, which he added to the menu because they hold up well over travel time. He’d funnel a cocktail into a small bottle or would pour it into a mason jar. Each was marked with a sticker with the drink’s name and an illustration of the kind of glass it should be served in.

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